Friday, December 08, 2006

the future

What will the world look like in 1000 years? There are indefinitely many options but here are a few broad categories that our future could fit into. I haven't really thought this though, so please suggest improvements.

  1. Apocalypse; either we all die, or most of us do and the survivors end up eating pinecones (and possibly each other).
  2. Gentle decline, this happens in Lord of the Rings and similar stories. I’m not sure why people suddenly stop reproducing but I think it has something to do with imagined golden ages when people were smart and moral.
  3. Human race splits into the “haves” and “have not’s” and possibly start to evolve into separate species.
  4. We settle into a stable equilibrium, possibly at about the current level of Western Europe.
  5. Technology and living standards increase at a constant rate.
  6. Technology and living standards increase at an exponential rate indefinitely.

Have I missed any? Which is the most likely? I think a dramatic apocalypse scenario is quite likely and this seems to be a popular option to judge by sci-fi movies. I really don’t buy the slow decline story, any takers?

I think that some countries will go for the stable equilibrium version but I don’t think it will be stable because if only one country grows just 1% a year faster than the others they will be a lot richer in 100 years. Humans are a sulky and acquisitive bunch. I doubt that people living in the static societies will be happy with the status quo, especially if people in the rich countries are living substantially longer. So I think that this is unlikely.

I think the option 3 might be popular, especially to those who see various forms of inequality relentlessly rising for the last however many years. I wouldn’t rule this out, but I doubt that governments would let this happen even if it looked like it was happening. I also doubt that western society is unequal compared to most societies of the past 2000 years.

Constant increases in standards of living would be great but it’s impossible to know where we’d end up. We could keep improving but never achieve some things that might be desirable, like significantly longer (healthy) lives. I also don’t see why the rate would be constant, seems unlikely to me.
The last option is the most interesting. What things could humans not do in principle? We should be able to colonize the galaxy, extend our lifespan indefinitely and make ourselves way smarter than we are now. Even things that we think of as physically impossible may turn out not to be.

Tyler Cowen's favorite young philosopher has much more to say

Here's a letter from utopia to strain your credulity.


cristi said...

probably number 6, followed by number 1. my ideal future would be that aliens brainwash us, so that we forget all our technology and begin to live simply like bushmen again. give the environment some time to recover before we advance and become industrialised again. process repeated

GT said...

Why do you think the dramatic apocalypse is quite likely? Do you think it will be manmade or natural?

Wrt Christi's point, is it true that if we all started living like bushmen again the environment would recover? Or are there so many people in the world now that the environment would take even greater strain without efficient farming methods etc? Maybe there aren't enough grubs and nuts and wild animals and whatever else bushmen eat to go round among 6 billion people? And if there aren't, the results could be pretty horrific, rather than idyllic (although I think it would be awful even if there were enough).

stuart said...

i don't actually think it is that likely, just more likely than most of the other options I suggest. My pick is number 6.

I think it would be manmade; if technology advances as much as I think it will, individuals could be able to build very destructive weapons. I'm not sure how we could stop that from happening (do you remember agent smith in the second, boring matrix movie?)

the caveman scenario doesn't appeal much to me either, sounds like option number 1.

if otion 6 is the way we go, we'll most likely be more like the clever aliens, I don't think the environment will be a big issue for all that long.